Todd Horne: LSU goes MIA in College Station on way to Atlanta

PHOTO BY: Jonathan Mailhes

Somewhere on the way from Baton Rouge to College Station, Texas either on Friday – the day after Thanksgiving or sometime Saturday morning – LSU got lost. Either misplaced, or simply got lost.

No matter how you slice it, the Tigers turned up missing in action on its way to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.

LSU, the team that began emerging in Gainesville, Florida Oct. 15, and continued to grow and progress for more than a month with Top 10 wins over Ole Miss, then Alabama, and moved all the way up to No. 5 in the nation after winning the SEC West and making the SEC Championship in Atlanta – even found itself sitting on the doorstep of an invite to the College Football Playoffs – lost its way and failed to show up in College Station on Saturday night.

That’s when the unthinkable happened.

The worst team in the SEC West, Texas A&M, beat the heck out of LSU, the top team in the west, Saturday night at Kyle Field.

The score – for the record – was 38-23, Texas A&M.

It could have been worse, the score, I mean. Not the outcome; the outcome could not have been worse.

Now, next week, in Atlanta, LSU and its 9-3 record, will line up against defending national champion Georgia with a 12-0 record in a game that very few people, who don’t call themselves Dawgs fans or Tigers, fans will pay much attention to.

The SEC Championship game, of all things, is rendered meaningless. Even if LSU, with its embarrassing three loses, beats Georgia in Atlanta, Georgia will more than likely still move on the College Football Playoffs.

It didn’t have to be that way.

The SEC Championship could have meant something. But now it is what it is, and it’s that way because of what went down when LSU failed to show up for its last regular season game.

The game itself, and the beat down Texas A&M delivered to LSU, could not have been much worse.

Texas A&M whipped LSU every which way but loose.

What the heck happened?

“Usually, we’re pretty good this time of the year,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “Tonight we weren’t.”

Ever notice how Kelly has a penchant for stating the obvious. Elaborate, please.

“Their best players made plays. Ours did not,” Kelly said.

Yep, that’s about right.

There were no excuses. And, Kelly didn’t offer any.

It was very clear to everyone who watched the sordid affair play out.

Worst beat first.

Bad.

In fact, the Aggies literally rammed the football down LSU’s throats.

All night.

Except for the Aggies’ first two possessions of the second half when LSU still had a chance.

Early in the second half, after getting pounded mercilessly during the first half, LSU still had a chance early in the second half. The Tigers still had a chance to win the game for one and beat Texas A&M like it was supposed to do. And, two, LSU still had a chance at, get this, making the College Football Playoffs, and, by virtue of that, it still had a chance to win a national championship.

The fact that LSU still had a chance at that moment was amazing considering the show its defense put on in a first half when it apparently forgot how to tackle.

Devon Achane, Texas A&M’s running back, who was not going to play because he was injured, decided to give it a shot and try to play during pre-game warmups.

LSU took the opening kickoff, moved the ball 25 yards before stalling out on a third-and-five when a wide-open Kyren Lacey dropped quarterback Jayden Daniels pass, forcing the Tigers to punt.

That’s when Achane’s decision began to pay off for Texas A&M, as in almost immediately. The Aggies moved 90 yards in 15 plays on the strength of nine carries for 54 yards from Achane, including a 10-yard touchdown run, eluding LSU defensive Jaquelin Roy in the backfield. He then outran the rest of the Tigers defense into the endzone untouched.

Texas A&M led 7-0. It was startling, since the Aggies had lost five games in a row and sucked most all season, but, hey this was LSU. They’re a resilient bunch. So, no biggie.

In fact, LSU responded by putting together a 12-play, 72-yard drive and tied the game, 7-7, on a John Emery, Jr. four-yard touchdown run. The Tigers dodged a bullet a few plays earlier when offensive tackle Emery Jones Jr. recovered a Noah Cain fumble at the Texas A&M 37 to keep the drive alive.

But then Texas A&M put together a 12-play drive that featured its freshman quarterback Conner Weigman outrunning LSU’s Harold Perkins on a third-and-seven scramble to pick up a first down.

LSU’s defense held and forced a 25-yard field goal from Randy Bond, putting Texas A&M up 10-7, but by now you were getting the idea that LSU was not its typical LSU, and this certainly did not appear the same Texas A&M team that had stunk up the SEC all season.

Still, it was early. No need to freak out, not yet.

Daniels came out a firing, and all appeared well. Daniels hit Malik Nabers for a gain of 13, then followed it with a 22-yard strike to Kayshon Boutte. A few plays later, Daniels found Nabers for 10 more yards to convert a third-and-six, and before you knew it, LSU was looking at a third-and-two at the Aggies 16 when Lacy flashed open in the right flat with a likely clear path to the end zone and Daniels hit him in stride.

But Lacy dropped it. Again. LSU had to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Damian Ramos to tie the game at 10-10 with 5:43 to play in the half, but things were still kind of strange.

On the first play of the Aggies ensuing possession, Achane blew past the right side of LSU’s defensive for a 29-yard gain. Then, on a third-and-10 from the LSU 49, Weigman scrambled for 13 yards and first down, followed by a 13-yard completion to Evan Stewart.

What in the heck?

Achane then gashed LSU for 19 more yards. LSU stopped Achane on consecutive runs from the two, but then Weigman tossed a floater to the tight end Donovan Green in the end zone to make it 17-10 with 1:10 left in the first half.

LSU tried to hurry up to at least put a field goal on the board before halftime since A&M would open the second half with the ball, but then ran into a brick wall when an obvious pass interference against Texas A&M against Jaray Jenkins was called, then waved off. Officials said the Aggies defender was going for the ball when the replay showed he might have been, but he was going over and through Jenkins to get to the ball which he never came close to.

Anyway, LSU came up empty and had to punt to basically end the half.

For a little while, early in the second half, you might have thought LSU found its way and showed up, at last.

If LSU stood any chance of righting its wrongs from the first half, the Tigers had to stop Texas A&M to have any chance, then tie the game.

LSU did just that after A&M went three-and-out. LSU drove down the field. Emery scampered right up the middle from 19 yards out to cap an impressive drive and tied the game, 17-17.

A collective sigh of relief coming from the East appeared to convalesce over College Station. A sense of normalcy was returning to at that point, and it gathered strength.

LSU’s defense held Achane on consecutive runs to four yards, then to two yards. Major Burns then blew up a Weigman pass to force a punt.

Consecutive three-and-outs. This was LSU, it seemed.

Then, on a third-and-one from the LSU 35, Daniels misread a zone read, didn’t hand it to Emery breaking clear up the middle, kept it himself and tried to run wide left to pick up the first. Texas A&M linebacker Edgerrin Connor jarred the ball loose from Daniels and Demani Richardson scooped up the fumble and returned it 27 yards for the touchdown.

““Ran our inside zone read,” Kelly said. “It wasn’t the right read. Jayden lays the ball on the ground. It shouldn’t have happened. From that point on we were chasing points.”

Worst led first, 24-17, with 7:03 to play in the third quarter.

LSU was forced to punt after an 11-play drive took the Tigers to A&M’s 37. They faced a fourth-and-16 after it appeared Daniels picked up a first down on a scramble that was negated on holding penalty against Jones.

Texas A&M wide receiver Moose Muhammad’s 21-yard, one-handed touchdown reception with defensive back Sage Ryan draped all over him put the Aggies up 31-17 on the first play of the fourth quarter.

To make matters even worse, after LSU could do nothing and was forced to punt from deep in its own territory, the Tigers managed to flip the field and pin the Aggies back to their own 23-yard line with 12:29 to play in the game – still enough time to rally from 14 points down.

But on third-and-six, Muhammad abused Ryan again, this time for 39 yards.

Achane, who ended up running for a career-high 215 yards on 38 carries for the game, finished off the drive from there with a handful of short gashes before outrunning every LSU defender on a sprint to the left from 10-yards out.

The Worst led First, 38-17 and time was running out.

LSU went 75 yards in seven plays with Emery scoring his third rushing touchdown of the evening, but the Tigers failed on the two-point try and found themselves down 15 points, 38-23, with 6:21 left to play.

It still wasn’t technically over, even though it really was.

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